To the Home Page of the National Humanities Center Web Site National Humanities Center Toolbox Library: Primary Resources in U.S. History and Literature  contact us | site guide | search 
Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Topic: MemoryTopic: ProgressTopic: PeopleTopic: PowerTopic: Empire
Topic: Memory: Civil War Memory and American Nostalgia
Toolbox Overview: The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Resource Menu: Memory
Text 1. Winslow Homer
Text 2. Hamlin Garland
Text 3. Joel Chandler Harris
Text 4. Jane Addams
Text 5. Robert G. Ingersoll
Text 6. Re-Union and the Railroad
» Reading Guide
•  Link

Text 7. Visions of the West
Text 8. Owen Wister

RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
Re-Union and the Railroad
- Kansas Pacific Railway Co., Senatorial Excursion Party over the Union Pacific Railway, 1867, excerpts
- Does not such a meeting make amends?, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, engraving, 29 May 1869 Discussing Art

Re-Union and the Railroad

Ingersoll's rhetoric may have been powerfully divisive, but it was up against some equally powerful uniting forces, one of which was Progress, ordained by God and here symbolized by the locomotive. In 1863, as civil war raged in the eastern states, construction began in Nebraska and California on the railways that would meet six years later in Utah, creating a 1776-mile span across the American west. More than an engineering feat, the first transcontinental railroad was a symbol of America's postwar promise—renewed vigor, shared vision, and redemption from civil war. In other words, re-union.

This view is evident in the readings presented here. The first includes excerpts of speeches delivered by U.S. senators while on a train excursion arranged by the Union Pacific Railroad through the plains states in 1867. The legislators lavishly express their awe of the railroad and their faith in Americans' ability to capitalize on its promise. Poignantly they exude relief in the shared future it offers to the nation whose unity, at that point, was maintained by force and occupation. Next we view an illustration published by a popular magazine several weeks after the completion of the railroad. While the drawing represents the geographical union of East and West, the metaphorical union it defines is that of North and South. 9 pages.

Discussion questions
  1. How does the transcontinental railroad offer redemption for the nation after civil war?
  2. How do the senators mythologize American progress, with its "magic of enterprise and self-reliance"?
  3. How is American progress, as exemplified by the frontier railroad, a divine mission?
  4. For what does the transcontinental railroad "make amends," as presented in the 1869 illustration? Are amends due the fleeing buffalo and Indians?

» Link

Topic Framing Questions
  •  In the aftermath of the Civil War, how did Americans look back and look forward?
  •  During this period, how did Americans promote the re-union of the nation?
  •  How did they reconceptualize their sense of national identity?

Toolbox: The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Memory | Progress | People | Power | Empire

Contact Us | Site Guide | Search

Toolbox Library: Primary Resources in U.S. History and Literature
National Humanities Center
Web site comments and questions, contact:
Copyright © 2005 National Humanities Center. All rights reserved.
Revised: May 2005